No one can agree on the top 5 greatest Coen Brothers films

As we began talking about editorial content we could publish to celebrate the release of Hail, Caesar!, the latest film from Joel and Ethan Coen, we realized that none of us had the same top five lists, and that it seems unusual for that to be the case. The Coens have had such a rich and varied career that it is impossible to pin them down to one style or one theme or one type of storytelling.

Some people love their comedies. Some people love it when they get dark. Some people love the underdogs, the least-liked of their films. But what's clear is that every film they've made has its fans, and even their worst films are beloved by someone.

There are few artists like the Coen Brothers, and we were delighted to get lists from each of our special guest contributors this time. The diversity of the replies says quite a bit about the people responding, making the Coens something of a cinematic litmus test.

So play along and tell us your own favorite Coen Bros. films in the comments below.

Damon Lindelof, writer/producer (Lost, The Leftovers)
O Brother, Where Art Thou?
Clooney at his best in a movie that is, for all intents and purposes, a musical. I played this soundtrack non-stop for close to a year and would (attempt to) sing the harmonies to “Down To The River To Pray” in my car. I'm told my singing is “charming” and also “abrasive.” The best adaptation of The Odyssey that will ever be, I reckon.

The Big Lebowski
Do you know the title of Autobahn's album? I do. It's “Nagelbett.” It means “bed of nails.” This is the kind of detail that separates good from great. Also, the funniest movie in any Coen movie is here when the Dude jumps up and uses the pencil to reveal what Jackie Treehorn was drawing while on his telephone call. Also, I hate Malibu and this movie is why.

Raising Arizona
The hero”s name is “Hi.”  When the kid writes “fart” on the wall. John Goodman emerging from the mud, screaming. The most flawless use of voiceover in the modern age of cinema. The Coens” best love story. A masterpiece.

Inside Llewyn Davis
This is the one a decade from now that will finally be appreciated for its true brilliance.  That cat, man. That cat.

A Serious Man
I was raised Jewish, but never really understood what that had to do with my obsession with unresolved mystery until I saw this.  Why start with an ancient folk tale about a Dybbuk?  What are we to learn from the parable of The Goy's teeth?  Did Larry unwittingly kill his son by changing Clive's grade, thus inviting God's wrath? My obsession with Job started here. I think about this movie all the time.

Drew McWeeny, HitFix film critic
1. Miller”s Crossing
Perfectly visually composed, filled with the most exquisite language in any gangster movie ever, and featuring some of the best performances the Coens have ever elicited, Miller's Crossing remains the gold standard of what they can do. That opening monologue alone elevates it, but when you add in the magic of Carter Burwell's score? There is nothing better.

2. Raising Arizona
Next time someone calls the Coen Bros. “cold” as filmmakers, remind them that Raising Arizona is all heart. That last ten minutes alone is one of the sweetest sequences in any movie ever made about parenting and love. Nicolas Cage gives one of his best “what planet did he come from?” performances here, and my love affair with the way the Coens use language began here with the line “Her insides were a rocky place where my seed could find no purchase.”

3. The Big Lebowski
It's, like, great, man. With a murderer's row of Coen all-stars showing up in the film in roles both big and small, all of them in support of Jeff Bridges in the role he was born to play, Lebowski has become a cult sensation for a reason. It lurches along with a stoner's logic, and it is flat-out gorgeous. It's also sensationally funny even when it is at its weirdest.

4. A Serious Man
I wasn't even sure I liked this one the first time I saw it. I knew it was well-made, but I wasn't sure what it was saying or whether I liked the way it said it. But upon revisiting the film several times, it became clear that this is one of the most personal and heartbroken films in their filmography. There is no finer film representation of the Job story on film, and considering the way the Universe puts its thumb on everyone sometimes, it feels like it is saying something essentially human.

5. Inside Llewyn Davis
Because sometimes, all the talent in the world doesn't change things, and that's the story that artists are most afraid to tell. You can be handsome and gifted and genuinely have something to say, and you can toil in total obscurity your entire life if things just don't break your way. There are few films that cut as close to the bone for me as this one does, and the truths it tells are truths that few of us are ever willing to admit.

David Lowery, director (Ain”t Them Bodies Saints, Pete”s Dragon)
1. Raising Arizona
Because it was my first Coen Brothers film, and because that dream sequence at the end has infected almost everything I've ever tried to do.

2. Fargo
Because of the Mike Yanagita scene.

3. Inside Llewyn Davis 
Because it had an unexpectedly galvanic influence on the new Pete's Dragon. 

4. Barton Fink
Because it introduced me to Faulkner. 

5. To the White Sea
Because I like to dream.

Richard Rushfield, HitFix Editor-in-Chief
A Serious Man

The most intimate, intensely personal dive into the Coens' great theme of how God”s barely suppressed forces of chaos now and then come unleashed.

The Big Lebowski
Like Don Quixote, The Dude is paragon for the hapless do-ok”ers of his age. And he abides.

Raising Arizona
Hysterical, warm and introduced that jet-fueled power of the Coens manic energy, racing forward through a story at a 1000 miles per hour but never veering an inch of cross

Inside Llewyn Davis
The most heartbreaking of the Coens works; one of the most heartbreaking films of recent years. The story of a man who has lost his place in the world told in a rainy minor key grows more lovely with every viewing.

O Brother, Where Art Thou?
For a pair whom have captured more shades of American life than perhaps any other filmmakers, it”s appropriate that they should have taken on re-setting Homer”s great voyage in our land.

Hal Hickel, visual effects animator for ILM, director (Rango)
Raising Arizona

Raising Arizona is the first Coen brothers film I ever saw. I was immediately struck by the participation of the camera almost as another character in the film. The inventiveness of the camera work wasn't just a show-off thing though, it always served the moment, and amplified or supported whatever was going on. I also loved the references to The Night of the Hunter, as that film was a favorite of my dad's, and mine as well.

Barton Fink
I love the sense of dread that permeates Barton Fink, of impending doom. I also like that there is a blurry line between what is real, and what is imagined, just like Hollywood itself. The film has a wonderfully observed sense of humor, like when Tony Shaloub's character Ben Geisler pauses in the middle of a tirade, and you hear his stomach gurgle. I also love Barton Fink in part, because I love Hollywood history, and just generally the Los Angeles of the “30s and “40s.

Fargo is such an amazing film on so many levels. Most of all, I just love watching poor Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) coming slowly unraveled. There's a terrific moment when he reaches the parking lot, and just sits in his car. The camera is outside, behind the car. There is long moment… then the trunk pops open. It's like “thinking, thinking……… decision”. It”s acting by car.

The Big Lebowski
This is such an interesting film to me, because it's a film that really snuck up on me. The first time I saw it, I enjoyed it very much, yet I really had no idea exactly how much it had gotten under my skin.  Then later it just started to bubble up when I least expected it. Lines from the film would appear out of thin air in conversation, I'd start humming “Just Dropped In” without even thinking about it. It's so weird.

Inside Llewyn Davis
I loved the melancholic feel of this film. From the subdued humor, to the cinematography, to the lost cat. What a lovely, quiet journey. Oscar Isaac is terrific, as is everyone else, though I think F. Murray Abraham's Bud Grossman has my favorite scene in the film.

Chris Eggertsen, HitFix
1. No Country for Old Men
The one where the brothers merged the cat-and-mouse thriller with bleak existential themes. No Country doesn't feel like much while it's unfolding, but the mood of the thing gets under your skin and stays there long after the final fadeout. Javier Bardem's bizarre, cattle gun-toting Anton Chigurh isn't only the Coens' greatest villain, he's one of the greatest movie villains, period.

2. Fargo
Fargo is a movie that veers between lived-in charm and forbidden humor, from Marge and Norm's “Minnesota nice” colloquialisms to that infamous climactic woodchipper scene. The fact that we simultaneously laugh and cringe at the unfolding small-town tragedy is a testament to the Coens' immense gifts.

3. True Grit
The Coens' take on the old-fashioned Western is wise, heartfelt, and remarkably straightforward. Their earnest tackling of the material is True Grit's greatest asset; for me, it's their most moving and human work.

4. Blood Simple
The Coens' directorial debut, Blood Simple is a bloody, twisted neo-noir that's both unapologetically black-hearted and cracklingly alive. Its propulsive, ingenious camerawork showcased the brothers' talent for infusing their visuals with devilish wit.

5. Burn After Reading
The Big Lebowski is good, but I saw it years after its “cult classic” status was set in stone and I somehow came away underwhelmed. My favorite of the Coens' comedies is probably this one, a caper movie full of astonishing idiots that benefits greatly from a game A-list cast and some of the biggest belly laughs of their career.

Derek Haas, producer (Chicago Fire, Chicago PD)
1. Raising Arizona

It may not be their greatest film, but I was 17 when it came out, and I remember laughing through the entire thing.  I grew up in Texas and the rhythms and the cadences in the dialogue hit me in my sweet spot… Arizona and Texas have a lot of similarities.  There were a good solid four years that I said, “Son, you got a panty on your head” at least once a month.  

2. Fargo
Flawless as far as I”m concerned. I don”t watch it over and over the way I have the comedies, but I thought it deserved all the awards it received. McDormand was a revelation, Macy was the greatest sad sack since Willie Loman, and the cinematography was matched beautifully with the story. Like I said, flawless.  

3. The Big Lebowski
I was married and living in Atlanta when this came out, and my wife and I fancied ourselves cinephiles and went to see this at Phipps Plaza, the one theater that would show “artsy” films. The theater was mostly empty and crickets were literally chirping.  But this movie had so many memorable “side” characters who would steal scenes:  the kid whose dad was in the iron lung, the Malibu cop, the neighbor who was in a one-act show… I just remember Kristi and I howling in this cavernous theater.  I”m proud to say we were on this one early. I”m honest about this stuff… I was late to the show on Beetlejuice. But we loved Lebowski opening week. 

4. No Country for Old Men
I hadn”t read the book, so I walked in knowing nothing. The Sigur character was menacing as hell, and that scene where he gets the gas station owner to flip a coin in a game to the death he doesn't know he's playing was perfectly toned and haunting.  I mean, it really got to me. Also, Tommy Lee Jones does Texas better than anyone.   

5. Barton Fink
I missed this at the theater and didn”t watch it until I had been in Hollywood for awhile.  It makes my top 5 for the line about “throwing a rock at a writer.  Just throw it hard.” Turturro and Goodman were great as always, but Michael Lerner as Lipnick wearing his military uniform in a send-up of Jack Warner was brilliant. Plus the writer is the tragic hero… what”s wrong with that?

(Miller”s Crossing is number 6 for me.)

Juan Antonio Bayona, director (The OrphanageThe Impossible)
1. The Hudsucker Proxy

It”s the perfect musical without songs, the weirdest blockbuster ever shot. The summon all the things I love about the Coen Brothers.

2. Barton Fink
There's always something new to discover every viewing of this film. Beautiful and mysterious.

3. Fargo
A masterful noir with one of the best female characters of modern cinema, Fargo features the most iconic frames from their career.

4. No Country for Old Men
Its haunting storytelling owes as much to Cormac McCarthy as to the Warner Brothers Cartoons. Probably my favourite Roger Deakins work ever. 

5. Inside Llewyn Davis
The bravest portrait of a loser. As terrible as it sounds, this is the story of someone who doesn”t deserve his own dreams.

Louis Virtel, HitFix
1. Raising Arizona

Some of us miss vintage Nicolas Cage every day. You just can't explain Moonstruck era Cage to children. The Coens delighted and kind of horrified us with this classic comedy, and it is unreal to remember this is only Holly Hunter's second best performance of 1987. 

2. Fargo
There is no other movie in history that juxtaposes such delightful characterizations with stark, grisly plot twists. Frances McDormand gives arguably the most deserving Best Actress-winning performance of the '90s as the peculiar, capable Marge Gunderson. 

3. O Brother, Where Art Thou?
The Soggy Bottom Boys were rad, the cinematography was gorgeous, and the Klan rally was a terrifying fever dream. There's no movie like it, and its soundtrack is one of the weirder Grammy wins for Album of the Year in history. 

4. Inside Llewyn Davis
Oscar Isaac's heartbreaking, un-self-conscious work as a struggling balladeer sauntering through Greenwich Village's folk heyday was both charming and affecting. Here is the squarest thing I will ever say in my life: Justin Timberlake's cover of “500 Miles” (with Carey Mulligan) is the best track he ever recorded.

5. Barton Fink
I thank Barton Fink for its anxious sense of humor and truly unpredictable plot. The drollness of Hail, Caesar!'s Hollywood story seems to recall Barton Fink, and I'm thrilled this strange, semi-apocalyptic movie introduced me to the power of John Turturro, who would later entrance me in the fabulous Quiz Show.

Graham Yost, screenwriter (Speed)
1.  The Big Lebowski

No question.  One of the greatest films ever made.  Even the YouTube version which only shows the points in the movie where someone is saying “Fuck” is a great film.  One of those films that can take over a writers room, so all you get done in the morning is talk about your favorite bits.

2. No Country for Old Men
One of their only adaptations and their best.  It captures the bleakness — mixed with an odd hope — of Cormac McCarthy's vision.  It's scary, exciting, and very funny.  And has one of the greatest haircuts in film history.

3. Miller's Crossing
I love Chandler and Hammett and so do they.  The central relationship between the crime boss and his loyal lieutenant is so beautiful and so sad.  A great romance.  

4. Raising Arizona
There's a misanthropic streak running through a lot of their films that can annoy me, where they seem to be looking down at their characters.  But when the characters are as funny and endearing as they are in this film, it's okay.  They may be idiots, but they mean well.

5. Blood Simple
These idiots don't mean well, but because they're so venal and maladroit, it's fun to watch their plans go to shit.  It was fun seeing that movie when it first came out and just knowing this was the start of something.

Michael Oates Palmer, writer (The West Wing)
1. Miller”s Crossing

Beautiful movie about honor among thieves. Jon Polito”s ethics monologue might steal the show.

2. The Big Lebowski
The best Los Angeles movie of the last 30 years. Reveals new jokes with every viewing.

3. Inside Llewyn Davis
Savagely underrated. Shows their often shielded heart. Authentic, funny, and so sad.

4. The Man Who Wasn”t There
Because along with the Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, it”s the best work our best living cinematographer, Roger Deakins, ever did.

5. Tie between Fargo and the first ten minutes of Raising Arizona

Dayan Ballweg, screenwriter
1. Raising Arizona
Still what I think of as a perfect film.  Watching an ensemble like this just hit it note-for-note – and everyone is EXACTLY on the same page tonally.  While we saw more of that from the Coen”s over the years – it was still a lightning bolt at the time.  When it came out I lived in a small-town in Oregon so arthouse fare was slow to reach us – usually coming out on video before we got it.  I remember seeing RA on Siskel & Ebert and going “huh, that looks like my particular flavor” – and the 50 or so viewings I have seen it since it came out only served to confirm.  

2. O Brother, Where Art Thou?
More of the consistent funny – and the music is just so damn earwormy.  Was part of that period where we were just discovering the joys of the Clooney – and here was one of those where he so clearly said “make of me what you wilt” and was reborn into THAT GUY.  Every single supporting performance is a joy.  And despite being a purposefully meandering riff on the Odyssey – it pulls you along with it every step of the way.  

3. Barton Fink
I have no idea how this movie reads to a fresh viewer now – probably a little perplexing and stilted compared to the period pieces that came after – but when I was in film school, Fink was a revelation – and it seemed to be the film where much of the Coens repertory company of actors gelled into a single well-oiled machine. I think of the Vonnegut story “Who Am I This Time?” because that”s how it must feel to be Goodman, Turturro, Buscemi whenever they get a new script from the boys. I”ve honestly never really tried to pick it apart and figure out what it MEANS – much like Lynch – I enjoy the unexamined dream that it is.

4. Fargo
It started with Blood Simple and continued here – The Coen deconstruction of crime fiction – and what I consider the “anti-cool” trademark of it.  The only time they”ve ever tried to make their criminals cool was Miller's Crossing.  Think about this and Jackie Brown that came out a year later – which actually feels more like a Coen Bros. movie as time passes – but still Tarantino (via Elmore Leonard) wants his criminals to “be cool” – whereas the Coen trademark is the exact opposite.  Their people deal with violence in strange and unexpected ways that we can completely recognize within ourselves – and there has NEVER been a Coen character that would walk away from a fireball in slow motion.  

5. Inside Llewyn Davis
Here is my most controversial choice – and the one I expect to be reviled for – since I”m placing it before Lebowski or No Country (insert .gif of Sutherland doing his Body Snatchers howl here). Here”s the thing. For me Lebowski is a joyous collection of moments.  I can list the things about it that make me smile again and again – but for me, I actually enjoy it more viewing it in five minute increments.  It”s an overflowing cornucopia, an embarrassment of riches – but I don”t need ALL of it at once.  

Llewyn Davis on the other hand – I didn”t care for on the first watch. It felt slight and tossed off. And then it worked its way under my skin, revealing something far closer to a novel in cinematic form.  There is so much going on in what is unsaid in this film – and so much that it has to say about the crossroads of art & commerce, failure & success – that it has taken on a certain place in my own “life of the mind”. The music is good – but what defines this film about music for me is the QUIET.  And that”s why I”m going to watch it another dozen times before I fully digest it. I can”t say whether it will ALWAYS be in my top five – but for now, it”s a book I want to read again and again.

Geoff LaTulippe, screenwriter (Going the Distance)
5. The Big Lebowski
Rather than say a bunch of not-new stuff or parade about some unoriginal thoughts about this movie, let me talk about what it is in reality: a placeholder for other Coen movies, new and old, that might crack this Top Five in the future after more time spent with them (True Grit, A Serious Man) or some closer inspection (The Hudsucker Proxy, Miller”s Crossing). That in mind… Lebowksi is, obviously, amazing. But oddly I don't think it showcases the abilities of theirs I've come to appreciate the most.

4. Inside Llewyn Davis
This one I don't need more time with or viewings of. It just WORKS for me. First of all, I think this is a decidedly *mean* movie, and there aren't enough films out there that are just mean-spirited for the sake of it. Llewyn's an ugly guy inside, and the world he lives in is an ugly place, and what's the result of that? INCREDIBLE MUSIC. I love musicals that don't want to be musicals more than just about anything, and this is such a wonderful example of that.

3. Fargo
I think, even though it's not my favorite movie of theirs, it's very clearly their best, and probably always will be. There's simply nothing to knock here. It's as close to perfect filmmaking as filmmaking gets.

2. Intolerable Cruelty
And yet, ahead of Fargo, I have this, generally considered by the populace (along with The Ladykillers) to be their “worst” film. Well, I love it, and I love it unabashedly. It's silly and ridiculous and oh my GOD, look how much fun everyone is having. I mean, Billy Bob Thornton has done a truckload of weird shit, but in how many other films does he dip a prenuptial agreement in barbecue sauce and eat it? None, that's how many. The screwball comedy lives on with absolutely crackling back-and-forth dialogue that is a sadly lost art, including my favorite exchange in any Coen Brothers film ever: 

“Do you have a, uh, green salad?” 
“What the f–k color would it be?”


1. O Brother, Where Art Thou?
The epitome of the not-a-Musical Musical. Based on (inspired by?) The Odyssey. Clooney at the absolute apex of his charm and confidence. Lights out supporting roles across the board (Tim Blake Nelson especially; you will never hear anyone utter the words “horny toad” so perfectly). The color palette, washed out to carry off a drought-ridden dustbowl effect in the peak of Summer. The costuming. The production design. Holly Hunter. Dapper Dan.

And then there's the music. When you can move a Country-hating, full-blown agnostic to goosebumps with banjos and church songs, you have traversed the Void. My favorite soundtrack of all time, and maybe one of the my Top Ten movies of all time. I think it's transcendent.

Gerry Duggan, comics writer (Deadpool, Chewbacca)
5. Barton Fink

Dread permeates it, and I took from it the license to make weird things.

4. No Country for Old Men
Unforgiving and unsentimental.

3. Miller”s Crossing
An essential film. If you”ve never seen it, I consider it a character flaw.  

2. Fargo
Moments of hilarity and terror no more than seconds apart. It still feels as flawless as the fresh snow that hides the bodies.

1. The Big Lebowski
I fell in love on the first viewing, saw it several times before it left the theater, and a few weeks later my phone rang. It was Los Angeles calling.

My college roommate was out here and knew he wasn't going to make August”s rent. He invited me to rent the second bedroom in his place. I had already tried struggling in New York, and Los Angeles seemed like a more relax place to struggle for your life. If the Dude, Donny and Walter could bowl and find time to make a little money, than I had a shot. I had a one-way ticket, a bag of clothes and a couple hundred bucks. My buddy picked me up at LAX and took me straight to a place that had buck and a quarter Budwiesers…which just happened to be Hollywood Star Lanes. A great omen in my first hour on the ground.

The Big Lebowski is a world where the misfits fit together, and that”s true of Los Angeles.

The film is fiction, and my landlord wasn't an interpretive dancer, but the idea of that character is undeniably true. Angelenos come from somewhere else to be someone else. Case in point: one of my first landlords was Ron Jeremy. It”s safe to say that both he, and the Dude”s landlord were both living their dreams.

I started clerking at a comic shop and stumbled from one opportunity to another until I was making comics. There are a lot of reasons you can be cynical about my hometown, but most people here are trying to create something. That”s not a bad place to live your life. The plot of the film is a knot, but it doesn”t matter. We”re in it to see these characters grind on each other. Lewboski is a reminder that the closer to the razor”s edge of comedy and tragedy, the funnier and more tragic life becomes. It”s the neighborhood I always aim for when writing Deadpool. I owe this movie.